Other than Christmas shopping specials in July, soon to be known as Black Summer, the U.S. doesn't have a monopoly on strange Christmas traditions and practices. Many other nations have a wide variety of celebrations that one can shake his head at and think, what are they doing?
So sit back and relax as I take you around the zany world of weirdness that has nothing to do with Jesus on a day that he was not born.
I didn't know that the Portuguese are so strange in their Christmas practices but then again, I only know one Portuguese guy who's a bit strange, but that doesn't make for a reliable sampling.
On Christmas morning Portuguese families will celebrate with a large meal. What makes this meal unusual is the fact that they set place settings for their dead relatives and offer them food during the meal. I would assume that the missing seldom accept the offer of a piece of toast. This might explain the lack of good Portuguese restaurants. Perhaps the patrons become the empty place setting at Christmas.
In Norway, many people hide their brooms on Christmas Eve night. The traditional belief is that evil spirits come to steal the brooms and travel around Norway. I'll tell you what. The evil spirits are working overtime here in the states so ease off, you Norwegians. This Christmas I doubt if those evil spirits will have time for a visit to Norway. They're pretending to avoid the American fiscal cliff
In Caracas, Venezuela many people attend Christmas eve mass by roller skating to church. Here in America, if the price of gas explodes along with the Middle East, we'll all be roller skating.
Germans have a strange tradition. The last ornament to go on the tree is a green glass ornament that resembles a pickle. It's hidden among the branches to provide an object for a Christmas morning hunt. The child who finds it is given a special extra present. Of course, here in the States, very few kids would search for a glass ornament pickle. Make it a real pickle surrounded by two burgers, double cheese, bacon, a large fry with 32 ounces of soda, and you might have a hunt worthy of participation.
In the Czech Republic, there's shoe tossing ritual that's a Christmas tradition. Single women stand outside their home and toss a shoe over their shoulder. If the heel lands pointing to the door they will remain single for the coming year. Here in America, the selection of the shoe would take a couple of hours given the typical woman's collection of shoes.
Another tradition in the Czech Republic involves molten lead. Participants pour the lead into water and try to predict the events of the coming year by the shapes that form. One prediction that usually comes true is that whoever gets burned with the molten lead will suffer severely.
The Czechs will also predict the future at Christmas by using an apple. Cut the apple in half crosswise and if a star appears at the core, the next year will be a good one. But if one finds a worm, you'll be at risk for misfortune. Bite into the same half, discover half a worm and one could predict the immediate emptying of one's stomach. Obviously, the Czechs have given this holiday a good deal of thought.
The English bake a Xmas pudding with a sixpence or three pence in it. Whoever gets a coin will enjoy a prosperous year. This tradition would never be allowed in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg would ban pudding as it contains too many trans fats and calories. Secondly the danger of biting into a coins is too risky for children and adults to encourage such nonsense. Thirdly lawyers would be advertising, "Hurt by a coin, call William Burgoyne," your pudding-eating attorney.
Here's a tradition that PETA would go nuclear over. Some residents of Greenland relish the consumption of kiviak which they find delicious. Now don't get me wrong, I love the people of Greenland. Of all the countries above 60 N latitude, Greenland is number one in my heart with Iceland a close second. But the Christmas dish of kiviak is wacky. They take the raw flesh of an auk, which is somewhat like a bird that didn't quite make it to the status of a penguin. The auk is wrapped in a seal skin. The kiviak combo meal is placed under a rock where it decomposes to a ripened state of putrid potency. After weeks of rot, it is then consumed. Perhaps for dessert, the good people of Greenland eat the rock.
My question to you is how did this tradition began? Did someone eating a roasted hobbit decide one Christmas, "You know what, I'm tired of these charred twerps. How about some raw rotten auk wrapped in stinking seal skin?"
Residents of Wales hide beneath a sheet of horsehair. Wow, what fun. They then emerge with a horse skull on a stick. The guy who's still covered with the hairy sheet goes around nipping people with the horse skull who must pay him cash. Obviously these people have been eating fermented rotten seal skin and dead auk.
Some kids in Italy don't await the arrival of Santa Claus. Get this; they await for the visit from La Befana who is a kindly old witch who doesn't drive a sleigh but somehow carries gifts on her broomstick, probably attached by duck-tape.
Legend has it that La Befana saw the bright star over Bethlehem and flew off to find the Baby Jesus but she failed to find him. Subsequently, every year she flies around looking for the Babe and brings gifts to kids on her trip. Come on, man. It's over 2,000 years and she still is searching. It's about time some one gives her a GPS system.
The country of Greece has several strange Christmastime traditions. The pomegranate is a symbol of prosperity and fertility. They hang a pomegranate outside their door in autumn. On New Years Eve they break the berry and re-enter their house with their right foot to assure luck throughout the coming year. Considering what's going on with the Greek economy, they better use the tried and true tradition of my Italian forefathers. They couldn't afford pomegranates so they hung a gardune outside the door with Christmas care. The next day it would be fried with flour and eggs and eaten because it tastes good. Thats' it. It has nothing to do with Christmas or the New Year. Who said my forefathers tradition made any sense? And they'd walk into the house anyway they wanted to, capece?
In northern Greece, there are men called Momogerola who get dressed in animal skins like goats and wolves. They visit nearby villages gathering small gifts and carry swords in case they encounter another group of Momogerolas. That is when a "war" begins until one group surrenders. I would hazard a guess that to truly enjoy the Momogerola tradition involves much alcohol.
As for me and my house, we''ll celebrate family and friends, cookies, pasta, Johnny Mathis, the promises of the Birthday Celebrant, and take a pass on the kiviak.
Nin Privitera is a Fredonia resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org